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Boric’s victory in Chile: The return of solid institutions

Democracy cannot survive only with the virtuous, it needs converts and rewards moderation with votes

El presidente electo de Chile, Gabriel Boric. Foto: EFE | Confidencial

Héctor Schamis

22 de diciembre 2021


“I’ve just spoken with Gabriel Boric and congratulated him on his great triumph. From this day forward, he’s Chile’s president-elect and deserves all our respect and constructive collaboration. Chile is always first.” Those were the words of his opponent Jose Antonio Kast on his Twitter account.

“Magnanimous in victory, courteous in defeat.” Democracy, too, is a set of norms and manners. Kast’s message was respectful of the laws, like a true citizen, like a loyal opponent – loyal not to the President-elect, but to the democratic system, which matters most to him.

Boric won this second round by more than ten points – 55.9% to 44.1% – in the election with the most participation since that terrible idea of voluntary voting was instituted in Chile. Servel, the Chilean Electoral Service, announced the results early on with its accustomed professionalism. No one protested, no one turned to the ruses that are so well known in other latitudes and that only muddy the field.

May this be a harbinger of good; may it signal the return of robust and stable institutions to this country, of legal security and political elites that are rational and reasonable. After two years of polarization and violence, the supposed “ultras” – each with their preferred ideological persuasion – ended by pushing the system towards a balanced center.

It couldn’t come at a better time. In addition, Kast has been cast as the voice of the opposition camp. Democracy is the province of those who lose elections. In democracy, they retain their voice, their legitimacy, and can attempt to return. The game must be reiterated, repeated over and over with new variations, in order to be able to exist.

The many reasons for this electoral result can be summarized in one: Boric moved to the moderate center more effectively with his sudden social democratic conversion. Given this, the blank or null vote of many from the old Concertation is surprising. I’ve lost count of friends from that time who confessed this to me.

This may possibly have been a “critical election”, a concept that describes a realignment of society’s electoral preferences, a transfer of votes that challenges the historic tendency. Such elections end in the crystallization of a new coalition, be it because of changes in people’s agendas, in the demographics, in the rules of the game, or in the make-up of the party system, among other things. If this is so, the epoch of transition will have ended forever.

In this sense, it matters little if Boric’s moderation was instrumental and opportunist, instead of authentic and genuine. Democracy can’t survive only with the righteous, it needs converts and it rewards moderation with votes. That’s the neighborhood that the great majority of the electorate inhabit. For that reason, no majority is permanent, and that’s democracy’s beautiful uncertainty.

The election process has been promising, but the true challenges lie ahead. Boric won’t have an easy time. He’ll have to resolve a complex fiscal situation, recover the trust of foreign investors, who are the motor force of sustained growth, define a balanced pension system, take on the frustrations of the youth, that’s today’s great tragedy in Chile and all over.

He’ll have to generate governability without the Law of Laws, since the new Constitution is in process. And he’ll have to be presidential, in addition to being president, in order to neutralize the attempts of the [Chilean] Communist Party to govern from backstage. If the CP could, they’d eat him alive, and with that swallow all that institutional strength that I’ve just praised. That’s the harsh reality that awaits Boric in La Moneda [Chilean presidential palace].

Finally, given the above, Boric will need to define his brand of foreign policy. The Nicaraguan election is an example of this. The CP and a number of groups from Boric’s coalition congratulated Daniel Ortega on the occasion of his fraudulent election. Boric had to distance himself from them and adopt a democratic perspective. You can be a leftist and be democratic too, of course, but in today’s world that requires a lot of courage.

In order to follow through as such, Boric will have to be tough on Cuba, where there’s been a one-party dictatorship for 63 years. He’ll have to question Maduro and denounce his crimes against humanity. He’ll have to be critical of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, and he’ll have to distance himself from Evo Morales, who’s a puppet of Havana, while his party – the MAS – has transformed the court system into an instrument for the persecution of adversaries.

It doesn’t matter if Boric is from the left or right; it does matter that he’s faithful to constructing an orderly constitutional democracy and honors his country’s international commitments to human rights. And it matters that in December 2025, he congratulates Chile’s new president elect, because without alternating mandates, there’s no democracy. I offer my vote for the return of that Chile of solid institutions.

This article originally appeared in Infobae.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times



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Héctor Schamis

Héctor Schamis

Académico argentino. Actualmente es profesor en el Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Georgetown. Es autor de varios libros y articulista de opinión en diferentes medios.